If you like it then you should have Fisher King on it
Time for a saunter down to Merlin land once again, for some thoughts about The Eye of the Phoenix:
Well, last week I said that Arthur would find it hard to beat his freshly-set record for shirtlessness (two minutes in). But if this week's episode shows anything, it proves that Arthur is a man who dreams the impossible dream and laughs in the face of goosepimples. Fearlessly he strides forth, strips off, and gives us a NEW pre-credits shirtlessness record at a gobsmacking time of FIVE SECONDS IN. Hoorah! I do like it when a man rises to a challenge.
I'm sure I had a really good reason for posting this image, but I can't seem to recall what it was. Any ideas, viewers?
Surely it's physically impossible for him to beat this new record, unless he streaks across the background while Merlin is standing there listening to the opening monologue. But given his sterling performance here, I wouldn't put it past him.
Anyway, it turns out that there are Important Plot Reasons (TM) for Arthur to be kneeling on the floor in the middle of the night dressed as a choirboy, and none of them are connected with dodgy fanfiction. No, he's simply trying to "transcend his body" and discover what his quest ought to be. This may sound a mite dangerous but never fear: Merlin's keeping a VERY close eye on Arthur's body, just in case anything should happen to it in the absence of his mind. Ahem.
Unlikely as it may seem, Arthur does manage to transcend his body for long enough to see the script for this episode on the astral plane, and thus discovers that he must enter the realm of the Fisher King in the Perilous Lands and find the Golden Trident. He quickly assures everyone that this plot has got nothing to do with Robin Williams, and Uther breathes a sigh of relief. It's also absolutely VITAL that Arthur completes this task alone, totally alone, with nobody else to help him at all. Ooookay. That's totally going to happen, isn't it.
Morgana and Gwen take a leisurely shopping trip to the local pashmina stall, but get rudely interrupted by Morgause, who is either disguised as an old lady or has had a very rough night on the mead indeed (I blame Cenred). She hands Morgana a magic bracelet that seems to have come from the same Etsy swordpunk emporium as the smoke signal ring from last week. One of these days, Morgause is going to work out that using oh-so-pretty weapons of sparkliness are no substitute for hitting someone with an unsubtly huge stick, but not today.
Merlin gets a nasty twinge when he sees Arthur's bracelet (the bad taste, it stings!) and he and Gaius search through a lot of jewelry catalogues to see where he got it from. It turns out that the stone in it isn't a stone at all, but an eye of the Phoenix. Merlin is so focused on the danger this poses to Arthur that he fails to say several things that I would have said in his place, including "You mean it's an actual eye, from an actual Phoenix?", "Why isn't it squishy, then?", and "Alas, poor Fawkes!"
Gaius reckons that Merlin can't possibly save Arthur alone (yes, despite the fact that he's saved Arthur alone zillions of times before), so grants him special permission to seek out a slashy companion for the trip; after all, it'd be a tad boring if both he and Arthur had to trudge through the countryside for hours with nobody to flirt with talk to. So Merlin does a quick search of the not-very-local pubs and chances upon the lovely Gwaine. Hoorah! Obviously Gwaine has nothing better to do with his day than get into bar-room brawls and run away from irate peasants, and he jumps at the chance to grab Merlin for a (quite literal) roll in the hay.
Oh look, it's Professor Flitwick, and he's the closest thing that the Perilous Lands have got to Customs and Excise. "You must be Courage", he says to Arthur. "You'll be needing Strength and Magic. But you probably won't be needing Shirt, so you can leave that here if you want." "I don't condone the use of magic," says Arthur quickly, just in case his dad's sent some spies along to check that he's abiding by Camelot health and safety regulations. It's not very convincing, especially when we know that Arthur's own policy on magic is closer to "Don't Ask, Don't Spell."
When Arthur gets to the Perilous Lands, he finds that they're suspiciously orange but otherwise nothing like Mordor at all, oh no, definitely not. For one thing, apparently one DOES simply walk into the Perilous Lands... and then straight into a nasty bog. Fortunately Arthur manages to free himself before any serious damage is done to his hair. Phew. That was a close thing.
I giggled at lot at Merlin knowing that Gwaine can't have been to the Perilous Lands, due to the lack of pubs. The Perilous Lands Tourist Office really need to look into that omission, just as soon as they've improved the unalluring name of the place, and changed the advertising slogan (out goes "Few have ever ventured there", in comes "Charmingly unspoiled!").
"Not Arthur." *meaningful puppy-eyed stare* - Good grief, could this be the slashiest thing to ever happen on this show? It's a blatant statement of Gwaine's unrequited love for Merlin, innit? Yeah, I know, you can pass it off as being about friendship, but come on. Both of them are pining for someone they adore but who doesn't love them back; it's all very courtly love and adorable to boot. And then the camera cuts away and leaves them discreetly in the woods together, to spend a long night of... well, making loud noises that will scare away the pheasants, of course. I'm sure we can all imagine lots of creative pheasant-scaring tactics if we try...
Meanwhile, Gwen is making up for weeks of oblivious flower-arranging by researching the Morgana situation in a refreshingly proactive fashion. First she smells a rat when Morgana breaks the Camelot rules about fire safety and gets snapped at for her trouble. Then she hides away in Morgana's room and sees her playing with fire, quite literally. Gwen then rushes down to see Gaius (the nearest thing she has to a gal pal, at least in terms of luxuriant hair) to tell him that Morgana's gone a bit odd and might even be "using" (magic, that is). Gaius resists the temptation to point out that it's only taken Gwen half a series to notice this, but still, better late than never.
Arthur wakes up and finds that he's still in the Perilous Lands and they're still not even vaguely similar to Mordor, even though everything's still orange and there's now a big phallic tower in the distance too. (I note that the Fisher King of legend was often portrayed as impotent or wounded in the groin, and it was this impotence that infected his lands. Judging by the Freudian look of his castle, he must have tried to overcompensate in other areas...)
And cor, look up there! They've stretched the budget to include some flying dragon-thingies! Or wvyerns, to give them their correct name. Oh course, the question on my lips was, is Merlin going to be able to control them with his elite Dragonlord skillz? And the answer was yes, of course... just as soon as Arthur's been knocked conveniently unconscious, yet again.
Much hilarity when Arthur woke up from his swoon and discovered the "surprise party" that was happening without him. Other actors might have run out of exasperated facial expressions by now: Bradley James just keeps them coming and they're funny every time.
I couldn't decide whether the boys banging around in the castle was more like The Crystal Maze or Indiana Jones on the cheap, what with the rolling underneath doors and the small-scale seething mass of insects (we can't afford a pit of creepy-crawlies but we've got a shoebox full, will this do?). No cockroaches were harmed during the making of this episode, but Arthur's ego may have been slightly bruised when Gwaine told him not to be such a princess.
I really liked Merlin's scene with the Fisher King: despite its simplicity, it was atmospherically filmed, benefited from some solid and serious acting from both Merlin and the King, and I even found it strangely moving. Somehow they managed to get a mythic quality into proceedings that feels miles away from the usual jolly romping, and yet fits in with what we already know about the characters and their world.
And if that wasn't touching enough, we even get a sweet reunion scene: Merlin gets a pat on the back from Arthur (which is a lurid display of affection by Arthur's standards) and a full-on hug from Gwaine (awww). We'll ignore the fact that it makes little sense for them to hug him at this point, since as far as they know, he's just been standing on his own in a room full of cobwebs for five minutes. But you don't score many points on the bromance scale for that, I guess.
Goodbye again, Gwaine, you big sweetie. I'm sure you'll be back again when the plot demands it. I still think you're a bit underused as a character, but I could watch you gad about in a jolly fashion and gaze worshipfully at Merlin all day.
Arthur very subtly tells Merlin to keep schtum about helping him. In other words, it's vitally important that princes do these quests alone, and yet there's no form of independent adjudication to establish whether they actually did. Frankly, that sounds like no basis for a system of government to me. I'm going to write to Uther and suggest he sets up a regulatory body (OFQUEST) to sort the whole thing out.
Uther pretends to be happy about the novelty trident that Arthur has brought him, but for a priceless artefact, it looks a bit like a cheap garden implement with a bit of spray paint on it, so he doesn't seem to care when Merlin wanders off with it. I suppose Gaius can always use it for turning over the herb garden.
As a climax, Merlin and Gaius stare meaningfully at the souvenir Plot Coupon that Merlin got from the Fisher King. Waters from the Lake of Avalon, eh? "It must have some significance", says Gaius, who's been around the block and knows a bit of Foreshadowing (TM) when he sees one. Well, we've got five episodes to go before the big climax, so I'm sure you'll both work it out by then. Just make sure you remember which trousers you left the bottle in, Merlin.
Merlin is keen to prove that he can do upside-down cheekbones as well as the next hot BBC actor.
Overall: I think I agree with Merlin's assessment: that WAS a good quest. Yeah, the middle part of the trek was a bit saggy, and Morgana's attempts at second-hand murder are getting ever more ridiculous, but the script was sharper than usual, the set-up for bigger things later in the series was promising, Gwen got some stuff to do (at long bloody last!), the laughs were present and correct, and as for the gleefully gratuitous man-crushing, I couldn't really have asked for more. A heartwarming brew for the cold winter nights!
Next week: Gaius and Queen Victoria, sitting in a tree - well, metaphorically speaking, at any rate. But could she be secretly in league with some sort of cheap CGI monster? I couldn't possibly say, viewers. Could you?